EDITOR’S NOTE: On Campus features graduates of area high schools who are playing college sports. It runs Fridays throughout the school year. If you know of someone who could be featured here, contact Mirza Zukic by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (724) 465-5555, ext. 267.
Given another chance to score his 1,000th point, Kevin Stapleton didn’t let it pass him by.
Instead he did what he’s always done — he shot the basketball. And when the ball dropped through the hoop early in Juniata College’s playoff game Wednesday night, the Indiana native felt a huge sense of relief.
“It was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said.
Just a few weeks ago, Stapleton, a 6-foot-3 guard, was worried that he might be one of the unlucky ones who falls just short of milestones.
He and the Golden Eagles ended his senior season with a 15-10 record and they had missed out on the Landmark Conference playoffs. And a look at the final stats left Stapleton with 996 career points, a painful total if there ever was one.
But then, after a layoff of more than a week, Stapleton and his teammates got the good news that they had been invited to the ECAC Division III tournament, meaning the quest for more wins — and a personal achievement — would continue.
“For a while there, we didn’t know if we’d get into ECACs or not, and I thought I might finish four points short (of 1,000),” he said. “So it was nice to get in. It was great news.”
Against Alfred State on Wednesday night, Stapleton came out of the gate firing. It didn’t take him long to score his coveted fourth point of the night, and the Golden Eagles went on to win, 92-76.
That victory sets up Juniata with a matchup Saturday night at the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Betheny (W.Va.) College.
Stapleton is third on the team at Juniata in scoring, with an average of 13.1 points per game. He has started all 26 games for the Golden Eagles, and he leads the team in minutes played per game, at 32.6.
A win Saturday would put Juniata in the ECAC championship game. A loss would mean Stapleton’s career is over. That’s something he really doesn’t want to think about just yet.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” he said, “and I know that could be it for me, for good. So I’m just trying to stay positive.”
If Stapleton’s career does come to a close Saturday, it will be the end for the oldest child in a new generation of basketball players in his family. His three younger brothers, Derek, Riley and Dylan, all played on the Indiana High School boys’ varsity team this season, just four years after Kevin played for the Indians.
Stapleton said basketball is in his family’s blood. His father, Jim, in college at Slippery Rock, and his grandfather, Walter, was a star player and later the coach at Indiana High School.
“I think we’re all just carrying on the tradition,” he said. “Ever since I can remember, we’ve all just loved basketball.”
• Across town, the Stapleton boys’ first cousin, Leslie Stapleton, recently wrapped up her junior year on the IUP women’s basketball team. A 5-10 guard, she helped the Crimson Hawks advance to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoffs by averaging 11.4 points per game. She started 20 out of a possible 28 games this season, her first since coming back from a serious ankle injury that forced her to miss almost the entire 2012-13 season.
• One of Leslie Stapleton’s younger sisters, Audrey, also helped guide a team into the PSAC playoffs. A freshman at East Stroudsburg, the 5-7 guard started 10 games for the Warriors, who went 5-5 in those games. She posted a season-high 11 points in a win over Pitt Johnstown on Jan. 8. East Stroudsburg won its preliminary playoff game, 49-48 over Millersville, before falling to Bloomsburg, 76-51, on Tuesday in the PSAC East bracket. The Warriors ended the year with a 15-13 record.
• Another first cousin of the Stapleton family tree is Tiara Stossel, an Indiana High graduate who recently finished her senior season on the Seton Hill University women’s basketball team. The Griffins lost to California, 72-59, in the PSAC playoffs as Stossel started all 27 games and averaged 11.6 points per game. She finished her career with 1,076 points.
KEVIN SNYDER (Juniata men’s basketball): When the Golden Eagles held Senior Night on Feb. 15, Snyder took the floor for his first — and only — college start.
A 5-foot-11 senior guard who graduate from Indiana High School, Snyder had come off the bench all year as a reserve before getting the starting nod in his final home game, a 66-61 win over Merchant Marine.
This season, Snyder played in 12 games for Juniata, averaging less than a point per game in his limited playing time. He played in 42 games during his four-year career and scored 12 points. More importantly, Snyder was part of a group that clinched a playoff berth three of the past four years, an unprecedented accomplishment in Juniata men’s basketball history.
ALYSSA SMITH (WCCC, women’s basketball): Midway through her freshman season, the Blairsville High School graduate cracked the starting lineup at Westmoreland County Community College, in Youngwood.
Smith, a 5-3 guard, ended up playing in all 27 games for the Wolfpack, a member of the Western Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference. She started the final 17 games of the season as WCCC went 17-10 with only seven players on the roster. Smith averaged 3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
Her season-high in scoring came on Jan. 11, when she poured in 11 points in a 71-58 win over CCAC-Allegheny.
KATEE GRESKO (St. Francis, track and field): A graduate of Penns Manor High School, Gresko has competed in six meets during the indoor track and field season for the Division I Red Flash.
A sophomore distance specialist, Gresko has set personal records in three events this season: the 800 meters (2 minutes, 36.08 seconds at the Northeast Conference Championships), the mile (5:46.76 at the Saturday Night Shootout in New York City) and the 3,000 meters (11:43.06 at the Kent State Tune-Up).
Her best finish of the season came in the 1,000 meters at the Gulden Invitational, on Jan. 25, at Bucknell University. Gresko placed 13th with a time of 3:31.08.
LEAH SKEDEL (St. Francis, track and field): After competing in the shot put, discus, weight throw and javelin as a freshman, Skedel has stuck with the shot put during her sophomore indoor track season.
A United High School graduate, Skedel has thrown the shot put at six meets so far, with her best showing coming at the Bison Opener, at Bucknell University, on Dec. 7. She placed fifth that day with a heave of 11.72 meters (38-5½). At the Northeast Conference Championships, on Feb. 8 and 9, in Landover, Md., Skedel placed 18th with a throw of 10.90 meters (35-9¼).